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Help Me Fix Up My Chair!

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It had taken about an hour just to get across town. On foot. I was scanning the booths at Brimfield—the largest outdoor antiques show in New England, which took over its namesake Massachusetts town for a 6-day kick-off market earlier this month—doing a preliminary pass. Brimfield's an itty bitty town, but with thousands of booths hawking every possible kind of antique along a few miles of country highway, the going is slow.

Besides getting my bearings, I was looking for a few fellow colleagues making the rounds, for kitchen tools I didn't immediately recognize, and for one treasure to lug home and fix up. A cutting board? Too easy. A threadbare rug? Too hard/impossible. Then under a big shady tree in the center of town, I spotted it.

Chair friend.
Chair friend. Photo by Linda Xiao

With two saggy (one curiously sand-filled) linen cushions, my chair looked familiar even though we'd never met. The vendor told me it was Danish, likely from the fifties, and we looked together at a red stamp on the underside that named its place of origin and a few numbers that didn't make any immediate sense. The seat was roomy, good for curling up and getting too comfortable in, and the lines of the wood were more elegant than others I'd seen, though nothing museum-worthy.

But the sticker price was more cash than I'd brought: "$260, negotiable," the last bit like some kind of taunt. The seat bands were intact, but mismatched. The wood needed sanding and polishing; new cushions were definitely in order. I did a quick mental tally of costs I knew nothing about and kept walking.

Photo by Linda Xiao

I found my coworkers, bothered some nice people selling old linen sheets made by hand in Eastern Europe, and crushed a pulled pork sandwich at the only food vendor in Brimfield worth your money. I picked over dollar silverware, found a really cute antique ice cream scooper, marveled at the masses of people and things, and found myself wanting to go back to the chair—but where?

The best map you can get at Brimfield has just the main drag on it and the names of various fields; there's no real order to where the little plots pop up within them, nor any means of finding your way to the ones you like but a sound or photographic memory. I walked in circles for a small eternity. And by some small miracle, there it was again.

Photo by Linda Xiao

I chatted with the shop's owner; she was so glad I'd come back that she hugged me, squealing, "You came back for your chair!" (Note to self: Be less obvious when in love.) I told her my plans to fix it up, my complete lack of knowledge about how to do so, and my budget. We went back and forth a few times on a fair price, until she dropped a hundred off the original number and started jotting out a list of tips for getting it back in its best possible condition. Just like that.

"Send me pictures!" she said in parting, like I was a babysitter taking her kid on a trip to the park.

Photo by Linda Xiao

So now I have this chair. I'm going to fix it up, even if I have nowhere to put it and no idea how to do it. And I thought you, trusty and experienced readers, might have some tips.

  • For the frame: The woman had told me to use mineral oil and steel wool to gently scrub away the existing finish on the (walnut? teak?) wood. I love the simplicity of this, and that it wouldn't require a sander. Has anyone tried this means, or loved another way better? I'd like to just oil it in the end, rather than finish it with paint, shellac, varnish, or polyurethane.
  • And for the cushions, I think it makes sense to have new ones upholstered professionally, based on the size and shape of these two. Poll: velvet or linen?
  • My gut tells me that replacing the mis-matched seat straps is only something I should do when they give out—but if anyone thinks it's worth getting done up front I'm all ears. (I've heard of this site for replacements; any others?)
  • Frame, cushions, straps. What am I missing? Dowels? Help.
Photo by Linda Xiao

Share your tips (or tales of antiques spotted and fallen for) in the comments below!

Tags: Furniture, Antiques